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NIST Goes After Infusion Pump Security Vulnerabilities

Posted on January 28, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As useful as networked medical devices are, it’s become increasingly apparent that they pose major security risks.  Not only could intruders manipulate networked devices in ways that could harm patients, they could use them as a gateway to sensitive patient health information and financial data.

To make a start at taming this issue, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has kicked off a project focused on boosting the security of wireless infusion pumps (Side Note: I wonder if this is in response to Blackberry’s live hack of an infusion pump). In an effort to be sure researchers understand the hospital environment and how the pumps are deployed, NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) plans to work with vendors in this space. The NCCoE will also collaborate on the effort with the Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota.

NCCoE researchers will examine the full lifecycle of wireless infusion pumps in hospitals, including purchase, onboarding of the asset, training for use, configuration, use, maintenance, decontamination and decommissioning of the pumps. This makes a great deal of sense. After all, points of network connection are becoming so decentralized that every touchpoint is suspect.

The team will also look at what types of infrastructure interconnect with the pumps, including the pump server, alarm manager, electronic medication administration record system, point of care medication, pharmacy system, CPOE system, drug library, wireless networks and even the hospital’s biomedical engineering department. (It’s sobering to consider the length of this list, but necessary. After all, more or less any of them could conceivably be vulnerable if a pump is compromised.)

Wisely, the researchers also plan to look at the way a wide range of people engage with the pumps, including patients, healthcare professionals, pharmacists, pump vendor engineers, biomedical engineers, IT network risk managers, IT security engineers, IT network engineers, central supply workers and patient visitors — as well as hackers. This data should provide useful workflow information that can be used even beyond cybersecurity fixes.

While the NCCoE and University of Minnesota teams may expand the list of security challenges as they go forward, they’re starting with looking at access codes, wireless access point/wireless network configuration, alarms, asset management and monitoring, authentication and credentialing, maintenance and updates, pump variability, use and emergency use.

Over time, NIST and the U of M will work with vendors to create a lab environment where collaborators can identify, evaluate and test security tools and controls for the pumps. Ultimately, the project’s goal is to create a multi-part practice guide which will help providers evaluate how secure their own wireless infusion pumps are. The guide should be available late this year.

In the mean time, if you want to take a broader look at how secure your facility’s networked medical devices are, you might want to take a look at the FDA’s guidance on the subject, “Cybersecurity for Networked Medical Devices Containing Off-the-Shelf Software.” The guidance doc, which was issued last summer, is aimed at device vendors, but the agency also offers a companion document offering information on the topic for healthcare organizations.

If this topic interests you, you may also want to watch this video interview talking about medical device security with Tony Giandomenico, a security expert at Fortinet.

Kaiser’s Mobile Health Approach

Posted on July 10, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As I mentioned in my previous post about laptops and iPads in healthcare, I had the chance to meet with Kaiser at the Health 2.0 conference in Boston. I had a chat with Brian Gardner, head of the Mobile Center of Excellence at Kaiser Permanente and learned a bunch of interesting things about how Kaiser looks at mobile healthcare.

The first most interesting thing to note was that Kaiser currently does not support any sort of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at this time. Although, they said that they’ve certainly heard the requests from their doctors to find a way for the doctor to use their own mobile device. Since this means that all the mobile devices in use at Kaiser are issued by them, I was also a little surprised to find that the majority of their users are currently still using Blackberry devices.

Brian did say that the iPhone is now an approved Kaiser device. It will be interesting to check in with Brian and Kaiser a year from now to see how many Blackberry devices have been replaced with iPhones. I’m pretty sure we know exactly what’s going to happen, but I’ll have to follow up to find out. What is worth noting though is the time delay for an enterprise organization like Kaiser to be able to replace their initial investment in Blackberry devices with something like an iPhone or Android device. While I’m sure that many of those doctors have their own personal iPhones, that doesn’t mean they can use it for work.

I also asked Brian about the various ways that he sees the Kaiser physicians using their mobile devices. His first response was that a large part of them were using it as an email device. This would make some sense in the context of most of their devices being Blackberry phones which were designed for email.

He did say that Kaiser had done some video pilots on their mobile devices. I’ll be interested to hear the results of these pilot tests. It’s only a matter of time before we can do a video chat session with a doctor from our mobile device and what better place to start this than at Kaiser?

Of course, the other most popular type of mobile apps used at Kaiser were related to education apps. I wonder how many Epocrates downloads are used by Kaiser doctors every day. I imagine it gets a whole lot of use.

What I found even more intriguing was the way that Kaiser used to discover and implement apps. Brian described that many of their best apps have come from students or doctors who had an idea for an app. They then take that idea and make it a reality with that student or doctor working on the app. It sounded like many of these students or doctors saw a need and created an app. Then, after seeing its success Kaiser would spread it through the rest of the organization.

This final point illustrates so well how powerful mobile health can be now that the costs to developing a mobile health innovation is so low. Once you lower the cost of innovation the way mobile health has done, you open up the doors to a whole group of entrepreneurs to create amazing value.

Guest Post: Will Your New Smartphone Ruin Your Practice?

Posted on April 29, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Guest Post: Hayden Hartland works at Spearstone, makers of Spearstone’s DiskAgent offering which provides a multi-platform approach to smartphone security by allowing lock, data-wipe, and GPS-tracking from any web-browser along with online backup for your business.

Breathtaking advances in smartphone capabilities are changing the ways we work and live. In their latest forms, phones such as the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Symbian, and Palm are beginning to rival, and in several areas (think GPS, camera and video) exceed the capabilities of laptops and desktops.

Increasingly, we email, keep contacts, track tasks and appointments, browse the internet, capture family moments, connect with friends, shop, and even run powerful business apps from our hand-held do-it-alls. No wonder then that surveys show some people giving up computers altogether for smartphones. Trends indicate smartphone sales and usage will exceed that of laptops in the next five years. Analysts describe a future where Smartphones that dock to keyboards and monitors obsolesce the laptop altogether.

The problem is that while smartphones are leapfrogging laptops and desktops in utility and connectivity, they have introduced security risks that too few take seriously. Unlike desktops and laptops where some of the biggest risks lie in viruses, and the eventual failure of spinning hard drives, the biggest risk with a smartphone is the loss and exposure of the information you store on it.

More than 5,000 smartphones are lost or stolen each day. Most smartphones hold thousands of confidential records – patient lists, emails, documents, medical records, patient payment records, and so on – yet there is little or no ability to prevent their compromise if your phone is lost or stolen. Many were carried by healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, dentists, office managers, billing providers, support staff, and so on) whose information represents real risk to their practices and patients if compromised.

Next time you notice a staff member, equipment rep, supply rep  or any BAA using a smartphone, consider asking, “Are our emails accessible on that phone?” and “If you lose it, can anyone access them on the phone?” If you are a medical professional carrying a smartphone you need protection because odds are that eventually you will lose your phone. Furthermore, HIPAA, the FTC and state consumer organizations require notification of all patients of a data breach (not exactly good for any practice or healthcare business).

Current phones and typical user practices do a poor job of safeguarding your confidential information. While many smartphones can require a password or PIN number to use them, few of us can tolerate the hassle of actually using one. We simply use our phones too frequently to put up with it. Yet without one, we’re completely exposed. And while a phone password may protect your information in the case of loss, it can’t stop someone with phone hacking skills who wants to access your information.

Here are some practical tips you can employ to reduce your risks:

  1. Create a passcode for your phone. If you (like me) hate being pestered by it, set it to be required after 4 or 8 hours, so that you only need to enter it once or twice a day. If your phone is stolen and locked the thief will either need to hack your phone or reset the phone to factory settings thereby removing all the data in the process.
  2. Create a splash screen when your phone is locked displaying a contact phone number or email address and reward value. Consider etching your name and contact information somewhere on the phone.
  3. Remove sensitive information from your phone as soon as possible.
  4. Write down your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. If your phone is stolen, call your carrier immediately and ask them to deactivate the IMEI number and the phone will be rendered inoperable for calling on all networks. This ensures the phone is unusable although it doesn’t protect any unencrypted information on your phone.

Fortunately, a few larger clinics and hospitals are beginning to address these concerns. If yours is a larger practice with a Blackberry Enterprise server and or Exchange Mail Server and your users exclusively use the corresponding phones (Blackberries, and Windows Mobile devices), you can remotely remove emails and some other sensitive information in the event of a loss or theft. Other alternatives are to deploy encryption software or use the expensive MobileMe services provided by Apple. For other organizations, Spearstone’s DiskAgent offering provides a multi-platform approach to smartphone security by allowing lock, data-wipe, and GPS-tracking from any web-browser.